We put diesel into a petrol car…yes, really

Since Craig’s kids would be joining us for the December holidays, and we would be driving a lot, I hired a spacious 7-seater to make the trip as comfortable for everyone as possible. We ended up going through five different replacement cars on the trip.

Car One

I picked the car up in Pretoria day before the holiday, and I was in a rush to say the least. There was a ton of things still needed to be done before we disappeared for 30 days, and spending hours in a car rental office was not the plan. So I quickly signed all the docs, including one that said “THIS IS A DIESEL CAR, and if you put petrol in it you are paying all the costs to fix, blah blah blah“. Luckily, just before I left the lot, I checked that the car was in perfect working condition, only to find out that in fact it was not…the boot did not want to open. Without being too dramatic, let’s just say the car rental company (Thrifty) is really lucky I discovered this then, and not at 3am the next morning as I tried to pack the car for our early start. So the rental company quickly swapped this car out for Car Two, which they said “was identical”. Cool.

Car Two and Car Three

We did fine with this car for a week or so, until we were on the N2 going from Ballito to Addo Elephant Park, and we realised the brakes were nearly shot. Which was also when we realised the car was past its service date. We were hours from the nearest Thrifty, so we decide to carry on and drive through to East London, and quickly swop out cars, again. The East London office promised to have a car waiting for us in the parking lot when we arrived, as we were already running late and had a lot of driving to do ahead of us. True to their word, the car was ready and I simply signed a document saying this was a “clean swop out”, and I was getting “an identical car” but “in much better condition”. Cool.

We did great with this car for about a day. We took it into the Addo Elephant Park (Big 5 territory) and filled it up with diesel at the main camp. Diesel, right? Because of that document that I signed in Pretoria, remember? And because I had been putting diesel into the cars for 8 days, and this was “an identical car”.

About 1km out of camp, right by the lion tracks, our car died a slow death. It was, of course a petrol car. There was no actual indication that that was the case. No document, label, or even an owner’s manual (which, as a policy, Thrifty does not give to the drivers of its cars!!!! ). My understanding had always been that the petrol pump nozzle would not fit into the “wrong” type of tank, but guess what? It does!!

No indication of what fuel this car takes….

So there we were. Stuck with four kids, in Big Five land, in a game park that was going to close its gates in 5 hours, with no car. Oh, it was also a public holiday. So..we call Thrifty. Again. And they bring us (hours and hours and hours later) Car Four. We had gotten rid of the kids by that time (no, we didn’t feed them to the lions. We gave them to a game ranger in a safari vehicle who took kids to the main camp where they wined and dined in the restaurant while Craig and I sat in the car). Actually, an hour or so before the replacement car arrived and about a minute before I peed my pants because I needed a bathroom and was NOT going to “do it in the bush” per Craig’s kind suggestion), other rangers towed us back to camp. Getting towed in a game park where there is no place to turn around is not as fun as it sounds.

Not as much fun as you’d think

Car Four

This replacement car, which was driven up from Port Elizabeth, was above the class we had rented (it was the only seven seater available at the time), so Thrifty took it back after a couple of days and replaced with…

Car Five

… which got us safely home.

So…who paid for this?

My excess was R15,000, which Thrifty did not charge. They did charge me R1,650 for the repair and I have no idea of how they arrived at that number. It does include a R500 admin fee. I refuse to pay a cent, as you can well imagine, as this was hardly my fault. In addition, Thrifty also charged me to re-fuel the car I had just filled with a full tank (of diesel) so I am looking for a refund there. Also, they charged me for the petrol to deliver Car 4 from PE to Addo Park, and to collect from Knysna to PE, which I also refuse to pay for.

On the other hand, I think I have a pretty strong claim against Thrifty, who placed me in danger more than once, no small part due to their weak communication and poor car service control. Also, the fact that they do not include manuals with car rentals is just plain weird…the manuals are there for a reason, and driver safety is one of those reasons. I planned an (expensive) day at Addo Park which included accommodation with the intent to view the damn park. Which we were not able to do because of Thrifty’s bad processes.

Anyway, the matter has been escalated and I will keep you updated. (Update: It ending up costing me R0, as I got a full refund)

Final thoughts

We obviously had car fiascos during this holiday. And although most of it could easily have been avoided had Thrifty had better processes in place, I must say that the Thrifty people were great and very helpful at each crisis. As I tell this story to friends, they all comment that we will obviously never rent from them again, but I think the opposite is true. I like working with a company that responds well to customer’s needs in time of need, and Thrifty played its part. If we ignore the fact that they caused the need in the first place, they are a great company to deal with!

And as a final lesson…always keep all your documents, put things in writing, take photos and keep people in the loop. It is amazing how all of that becomes a God-send once you have to defend your case.

But we still had a great holiday!



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